With each Friday’s announcement of Writer’s Week @thewsssociety on Twitter, there are more and more questions about the thoughtful little Scottie dog accompanying the piece. Apparently not many Writers to the Signet are aware that Walter the Scottie exists. This is perhaps understandable as he is quite shy and the Signet Library provides a great many excellent hiding places. Walter is a typical Scottie in many ways, fiercely loyal to his owners, the WS Society, staunch, intelligent, wilful and easily insulted. He takes a keen interest in all WS matters as well as current affairs and culture. He is always mindful of the proud history of partnership between lawyers and their dogs.
Although many are aware of the Edinburgh Old Town’s most famous dog, Greyfriars Bobby, and the celebrated statue, how many know that a dog sits alongside Sir Walter Scott on the Scott monument? The lawyer and author owned many dogs throughout his life and they often appeared in portraits with him. Scott recalled his old dog, Maida, “who has so often been sketch’d that he got up and went away with signs of loathing whenever he saw an artist unfurl his paper and handle his brushes”. He always wrote with his dog beside him. He was so upset by the death of one dog, he excused himself from an engagement, pleading as his apology “the death of a dear old friend”.
Scott’s attitude to dogs was unusual in the 19th century but it was shared by another of the era’s great figures, the US president Abraham Lincoln. As a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, Lincoln adopted a stray mongrel found wandering near his home. This dog was the original “Fido”, named after the Latin word for faithful. Fido lived up to his name, following Lincoln throughout his lawyerly duties during the day, from office to the postmaster and even to the barber shop for Lincoln’s daily shave.
After he was elected president, Lincoln feared Washington life would not suit Fido and left the dog in the care of friends in Springfield. He also gave the friends Fido’s favourite horsehair sofa and a long list of instructions: they must promise never to tie Fido up in the backyard, not scold him for wet or muddy paws, allow him inside whenever he scratched at the door and ensure they followed Lincoln's habit of feeding him scraps from the dinner table.
However, Fido never achieved the celebrity of the most famous of presidential pets – and hero for Walter – Fala, the Scottie belonging to US president and lawyer Franklin D. Roosevelt. Fala’s full title was John Murray of Falahill, named by Roosevelt after his famous Scottish ancestor, John Murray. He followed Roosevelt everywhere and so captured the public imagination that during the Battle of the Bulge American soldiers asked one another the name of the president’s dog to make sure no undercover German soldiers had infiltrated American ranks.
Fala’s greatest moment came during the 1944 presidential campaign in Washington at a raucous dinner for the Teamsters union. Roosevelt had been subjected to increasingly personal attacks from Republican opponents in Congress, including a claim that he accidentaly left Fala behind on the Aleutian Islands while on tour there and sent a US Navy destroyer to retrieve him at vast expense to the taxpayer. Orson Welles had the idea of turning these accusations into a joke for a speech to be filmed and broadcast across the nation. Roosevelt was delighted by the notion. “The Fala bit was so funny”, one reporter observed, “even the stoniest of Republican faces cracked a smile”. Roosevelt, with perfect comic timing, delivered the lines: “These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks and my family don’t resent attacks. But Fala does resent them. You know... Fala is a Scottie”. Fala is prominently featured in the FDR memorial in Washington DC, sitting at FDR’s feet, the only presidential pet given such an honour.
Walter the Scottie hopes to be just as faithful a friend to all Writers to the Signet. Look out for Walter every Friday heralding the latest comment on legal life and current affairs.